On occasion I go to a friday evening guided meditation + dharma talk. A few weeks ago I went with a few friends — I had no idea what I was walking into.
The guest speaker leading the meditation that night got right to the point, “Tonight we’re going to meditate on death. Not everybody is going to like this but it’s important.”
And so she led us through a 40 minute meditation on death. She walked us through reflections on how our own lives could end at any moment, the reality that we WILL lose our loved ones, and how most of us deal with death by leaning on the same coping mechanism — we disassociate ourselves from it. We subconsciously think, “oh that’s what happens to other people, not me, not my loved ones…” until it does happen to us, and we have no choice but to look at it and feel its power.
This sounds like an awful way to spend a friday night, doesn’t it?
After the meditation, the speaker took some comments and questions from the crowd. I remember one girl in particular who raised her hand to rail against the speaker, she said, “I came in here in a really good mood. This is not what I wanted to hear! Why do these acetic teachings always rain on everyone’s parade. Is it really helpful?” I don’t blame her. What a way to suck the life out of the room…or was it?
Here’s the thing that surprised me that night — I actually felt a sense of peace (dare I say joy?) wash over me as I meditated on the inevitable. I’m not sure why exactly. But I do know it simplified everything that usually feels so complicated. And for that 40 minutes, I surrendered to it all. It was a relief to look death squarely in the face, to admit to myself that it is always there, patiently waiting for me and everyone that I love. What a paradox! To find peace in something that often feels impossible and horrifying to consider was unexpected.
Today I was listening to an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Gabor Mate, a palliative care doctor. He said, “When people are facing death they come up against the truth of their lives. If you can face death you can face life.”
In that moment, I realized why I found peace in a meditation on death. It helped me face the truth of my life. I’m not even sure exactly what that means, but I do know one thing, I feel what it means. When we stop hiding from the truth of our lives, we realize this whole thing, all of it, is enough. And that feels good.